Saturday, December 26, 2009

Goodbye, Vic

("Oh, death..." Feb. 2006, Bowery Ballroom, NYC, pic by Ezra S.)

...and when the crisis passes
when the coast is clear
I'll be buffed down to a liquid
and the world, world, world it is a sponge

Throughout this entire ugly outing
I've been mumbling the convex of what I should be shouting
but I'll soon be silent you'll soon hear nothing
'cause the world, world it is a sponge...
(From "Sponge" by Vic Chesnutt, 1992)

He sang from his wheelchair like a steam-powered locomotive boiling to leave the station at noon sharp. This train has just now left the station. A few minutes early too.

I had the pleasure of meeting Vic Chesnutt on a several occasions before or after some of his concerts in New York and Montreal. We also bumped into each other and chatted coming out of a Bob Dylan show at Madison Square Garden one night.

I always thought he was a vastly talented performer and poet and knew that someday others would catch up with his shockingly honest music and and savour its jagged and dark, yet upliftingly twangy angles like I had these past fifteen years or so.

Maybe now that he is gone more people will.

One can start with my two favourite albums Little and Is The Actor Happy for an easy-wrenching way in. I started with Little. I vividly remember buying it at the now gone Tower Records on Broadway in The Village and not even being able to make it all the way home with it I was so excited to have the CD a friend had sampled for me the day before. I was hooked from the first second.

After leaving Tower with the CD, I was compelled to duck into a schlocky discount electronics store not a dozen doors up Broadway to ask if I could have a listen to some speakers in their demo room. I politely asked the salesman if I could put on my gleaming copy of Little into the CD player.

The salesman put it in, had a listen to Vic singing "I dreamed I was a-dancin' with Isadora Duncan" and swiftly drifted out of the room rolling his eyes. I listened undisturbed in that soundproof room for nearly the entire album. I may have even tried to get Vic's key-twisting voice to come out of all the stack of speakers in the room at once. The salesman never returned. I ended up buying every one of Vic's 15 or so CDs from that point on.

Vic died at the age 45 on Christmas day. People are saying it was suicide related to depression and being hooked on painkillers after years of post-car crash pain and disabilities. They're saying he was also in debt from medical bills. (Read NY Times article)

Whatever they say, I'll say this... here was a totally one of a kind artist who will live on through his prolific piles of albums. Nobody sounded like Vic and nobody, really nobody, wrote like the guy. Not even Dylan. I humbly and proudly say it.

Dylan wrote like Dylan, Vic wrote like Vic.

His songs will always tickle my mind and punch at my heart.

Vic, I'll miss you.


P.S. Right after writing this, I opened up iTunes and in 2 seconds flat called up the 122 Vic songs in there and hit Shuffle...

the song that came on...

"I'm Through":

"I'm through living my life for you/
yes, I hope for both our sakes, I'm through, through, through."

("Because I'm Through" Feb. 2006, Bowery Ballroom, NYC, pic by Ezra S.)

"Flirted With You All My Life"
(from Vic's 2009 CD At The Cut)

listen to free full song here

I am a man
I am self aware
And everywhere I go
You're always right there with me

I flirted with you all my life
And even kissed you once or twice
And to this day I swear it was nice
But clearly I was not ready

When you touched a friend of mine
I thought I would lose my mind
But I found out with time
That really I was not ready

Oh, death
Oh, death
Oh, death
Really, I'm not ready

Oh death, you hector me
The death some make, those dear to me
Tease me with your sweet relief
You are cruel and you are constant

When my mom was cancer sick
She fought so hard but then succumbed to it
But you made her beg for it
Lord, Jesus, please I'm ready

Oh, death
Oh, death
Oh, death
Really, I'm not ready

Oh, death
Oh, death
Oh, death
Clearly, I'm not ready
No, no...


(Filmed live by hmc1410 on Nov 4th, 2009 at Lincoln Hall in Chicago)

In an interview in the online magazine Aquarium Drunkard, Vic had this to say about about "Flirted With You All My Life":

"Well, this song just kind of happened. It is very personal. During run-through, when I was showing it to everyone, in the first couple of takes, I had tears in my eyes. It was very emotional to me. I’d never sung this song out – it was only on paper. But when I sing it out loud, it was very emotional for me and very personal. I wanted to write a song about a suicidal person. It’s about me – I have suicidal tendencies. So it’s about a suicide who wanted to live...The song is about realizing that I don’t want to die. I want to live."

In an interview with NPR's Terri Gross on Fresh Air: "This is a joyous song. It's a heavy song, but it's a joyous song. It's a breakup song with death."



You told me your late grandpa once said, "Woody Guthrie music's good but you can't dance to it."

Please tell Woody we're now dancing to it down here. Tell your grandpa we're now dancing to your music too.

I think they'll both be proud of the true gems you created.

Thank you for making me cry and laugh and always think, Vic.